Cognitive distortions, also called thought traps, are anxiety inducing thought patterns. They are ways of thinking that seem true but are in fact not reasonable, realistic or relevant to the situation.
Noticing when we are using thought traps and countering them is an important part of CBT-exercises, which also can reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Here is the summary of how to challenge cognitive distortions through 3 steps:
Step 1: Identify the problematic thought and its magnitude
Step 2: Examine the evidence of the problem creating thoughts
Step 3: Create alternative, rational and more self-supportive thoughts by investigating them:
1) practice a nuanced language and avoid judgmental words such as must, should, have to etc. also in our internal dialogue
2) use the common norm by asking others about their experiences and how they think about the specific problem to determine how rational, realistic and sound your perspective is
3) do a cost-benefit analysis and get motivated to change through comparing the advantages/possible gains and disadvantages/the price paid of feelings, thoughts, and behaviours
4) practice re-attribution to investigate the realism of problematic thoughts to make sure you do not claim an unreasonable large share of the blame.
Hence, one focuses on other external factors and persons that also contributed to the situation, not to deflect blame, but to get a more balanced perspective. This also helps problem solving by identifying more angles and hence possible solutions.
5) Use definitions as a method by arguing with the distortions specifying what we mean with labels such as “inferior”, “loser”, “idiot” etc. often leads to the insight that the labels more closely represent specific behaviours,’ or pattern rather than the whole person.